Missing teen's death confirmed as suicide by hanging; tragedy revives long-standing problem of mental health among youths
Published: Feb 02, 2023 12:57 PM Updated: Feb 02, 2023 12:53 PM
Search notice for Hu Xinyu Photo: VCG

Search notice for Hu Xinyu Photo: VCG

Police in Qianshan, East China's Jiangxi Province, confirmed during a press conference on Thursday that Hu Xinyu, a 15-year-old student who had been missing for more than three months, ended his own life by hanging, providing closure in a case that has drawn significant attention on Chinese social media platforms.

Hu suffered from mental issues before he killed himself due to poor academic performance, police revealed at the press conference, referring to a long-standing problem of mental health among Chinese youths, with experts calling for a complete mechanism to provide mental health services and timely intervention to prevent suicide among Chinese adolescents.  

Hu mysteriously disappeared from his school on October 14, 2022. A local worker found his body hanging from a tree in the yard of a grain depot located near the Zhiyuan middle school where Hu was enrolled. The police identified the body as belonging to Hu after conducting DNA tests on biological materials recovered from the scene, Jiangxi police announced at the press conference. 

Following a thorough investigation covering the school, the location where the body was recovered and other physical evidence, local police concluded that Hu had taken his own life by hanging.

There were no signs of a struggle at the scene of the body. Hu's bones and organs all remained intact, according to police.

Police found a recording pen at the scene, which was confirmed to belong to Hu. His suicidal intent was confirmed through accessing two files retrieved from the pen, according to police. 

The two files were separately recorded at about 20 minutes to 6 pm and 11 pm on October 14, 2022, the day he went missing. Police noted that there appeared to be no artificial synthesis or tampering of the recordings.

Closed-circuit video footage in the school showed that Hu walked to the balcony of the fifth floor of the dormitory at 5:40 pm on October 14, 2022, before attempting to jump off the building.

According to Jiangxi police, they had searched the grain depot on four occasions over recent months.  

In response to doubts and criticism online over the inefficient search by the police, who took too long to find the body, Hu Mansong, deputy director of the Jiangxi public security department, apologized at the press conference.

"Due to the deficiencies of our work, it took more than 100 days to find Hu. We will learn from the experience and continue to improve our work."  

Jiangxi police also refuted rumors circulating online about the case, including that Hu had been killed and his body then transferred to the yard. They said they had dealt with more than 120 rumors and pieces of misinformation about the case and punished some rumormakers. 

Following an extended investigation and analysis, psychological experts concluded that Hu was isolated and lacked emotional support. He also suffered from insomnia and cognitive dysfunctions such as inability to concentrate and memory difficulties after he started to study in the Zhiyuan middle school from September 2022 and was struggling academically. 

Hu's case was of the most concern in recent years and it brought back the long-standing problems of mental issues and high suicide rates due to academic pressure among Chinese youths. 

Chu Zhaohui, a research fellow at the National Institute of Education Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday that academic pressure is a main reason for suicide among Chinese students in elementary and middle schools. 

The high pressure is related to a single educational evaluation system that attaches the most importance to scores but neglects students' emotional needs and the important issue of growth in autonomy.  

Abundant cases showed that the results differ a lot in terms of whether people with mental problems and suicidal thoughts get timely psychological counseling. The schools should establish a psychological education and suicide preventive system as well as make efforts to reduce academic pressure, Chu noted.    

An official from the Qianshan education authority told media at the press conference that the tragic incident would lead to a renewed focus on local students' mental wellbeing.

In December 2019, Chinese authorities launched a joint action plan with a specific focus on child and adolescent mental health. The plan mandated that by 2022, all levels and types of schools should set up psychological service platforms to provide mental health services to students.

The plan also said that 60 percent of mental health hospitals at or above the second level (i.e., between basic and high-level medical services in the Chinese system) should set up outpatient services for children and adolescents.